We often hear parents wondering why their children are so different from one another and behave in a certain way, even if they were raised the same way.
It really confuses many parents and makes a strong case for nature vs nurture. I’ve always believed that we are all products of both. Recently I came across some interesting material, which seems to shed light on the issue.
A book by Dr. Gary Chapman, “The Five Love Languages of Children,” says that everyone has his or her own way of receiving and giving love, or what he calls a “love language.” This becomes a person’s unique way of experiencing and expressing love.
People’s love languages have nothing to do with how much they love one another. You might love your child more than life itself, or be the center of your child’s universe, but have opposite love languages. This is because you really don’t have to have the same language of love, as long as you have the willingness to learn and speak the other’s language.
This is especially true with children, because one cannot expect a child to know how to read a parent and adjust.
It’s an interesting book, because, as a mother of three, despite knowing well that each child is unique, I still tend to try one-size-fits-all methods when I see it working with one or two children.
There are times when it’s one big guessing game trying to figure out what will work for each child. But the book is a great navigational tool—it cuts out the guessing part and guides me which language of love my children best respond to. Knowing their love language allows me to understand them better and allows them to feel more loved.
The five love languages are physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts and acts of service. While each child may have a primary language, it still helps to incorporate the other four, as each one has its own beneficial effects.
Children who value physical touch need to feel your love literally. Physical touch is more than hugs and kisses. Many are not comfortable with too much affection, but there are other ways you can show it—combing or ruffling the hair of your child, reading a story while your child sits on your lap, playfully wrestling, patting their back or letting them rest their head on your shoulder.
It’s easy to dismiss a child who holds on tightly or constantly tugs on your hand as simply being “clingy.” And for boys, some parents might even be inclined to stop them from being too affectionate. But doing so will succeed only in making a child feel alienated.
Words of affirmation
Words are powerful—be careful with the things you say. Build your children up with your words, not tear them down. This doesn’t mean issuing empty praises and flattering egos, because that is just as damaging as cruel words. Words of affirmation show love, affection, support, belief, hope, positive guidance and, most importantly, sincerity.
Quality time is about undivided attention. It doesn’t matter what the activity or event—what is important is that you are spending time together. This tells your child that you enjoy his or her company. Nowadays this is getting harder, with technology rudely interrupting even the most intimate moments.
But we need to give our children that sense of importance so they will learn to value themselves. This is especially challenging for bigger families, but just a few minutes carved out every week can make a world of difference.
I don’t know of any child who doesn’t like receiving gifts. But you can distinguish the child who values gifts as a concrete expression of your love versus the child who is simply excited to receive a gift. Children whose language of love is gifts are not necessarily materialistic.
An authentic expression of gifts as a love language means that it’s not so much the monetary value of the gift, but the effort that will make an impact on your child. So, no need to break the bank. Spoiling will get you nowhere. Instead, focus on giving meaningful presents that can serve as concrete expressions of your love.
Recently, I brought home a pretty little bookmark for the book my daughter is reading, and I saw that her excitement was not so much over the bookmark, but in receiving it and asking me where I got it. Knowing my daughter’s language of love helps me communicate and understand her better.
Acts of service
When our children ask us to do something, it’s not about getting the best results, but seeing you go out of your way to do something they will appreciate.
When our children are small, we do many things for them, but as they get older, our acts of service can focus on teaching them how to do things for themselves so they can learn to be independent. Sometimes, our greatest act of service can be to do less.
You don’t have to jump at every request, as this would deprive them of the opportunity to learn. But if this is your son’s primary language of love, you must be sensitive to the intention behind what he is asking you to do, and respond correspondingly.
Knowing our children’s love language is not the perfect solution, but it can certainly help. For instance, if your love language is acts of service, and every day you drive your son to school, even if it is out of the way for you, but your son’s love language is physical touch, then your actions will not have the desired impact.
Your son might notice that you bring him to school, but he might think it is just part of your routine. What he might be waiting for is for you to give him a hug when you drop him off at school. So, in the end, you both end up feeling shortchanged from your time together.
Or perhaps your love language is acts of service, so you can be constantly doing things for your daughter, but feel unappreciated because her response is always a little lukewarm. If her love language is quality time, she might be wondering, “If you love me, why don’t you spend time with me? Why are you always too busy?”
It’s not always easy to transcend our own love language, but this is what our children need from us especially during the hardest times.
And if we are able to express our love in a way that our children will truly feel and understand, then they will grow up self-assured, healthy and mature, capable of giving love as well and doing good in this world.